When getting ready to pitch VCs, founders often jump right into assembling a slide deck. I think this is a mistake. I’d suggest that you start by writing twenty headlines that sum up your startup, and only then build the slides.
It’s hard to digest lots of content. Narratives are much easier to digest & simple narratives more so than complicated ones. What are the handful of things you really want the investor to remember? If you tell the story well, they’ll dig-in to more of the complexity later.
Most pitch decks will have slides addressing the following themes (often using these exact titles):
🔥 User Problem
⌚️ Why now?
👩💼 Business Model
You should touch on all these topics, but founders often create a placeholder slide for each of these topics and start dropping in graphics to support each point. “Here’s a bar chart showing the biggest plausible TAM I could find on Google!” “Ah, here’s our technology on the upslope of a Gartner Hype Cycle!”
When finished, you’ve got something that feels more akin to a book report than a cohesive story. The proforma approach to presenting can work, but the numbers need to be amazing, or the founders need to be incredibly charismatic. Here’s what to do instead:
📺 Write a 30-second commercial about your startup
Why is 20% of your equity worth $3–5M? The answer, and that script, should be the backbone of your pitch. If Hollywood can tease a 2-hour film in 30 seconds, you can tease a 45-minute meeting.
🐳 Start with a splash
Launch right into the biggest statement you can make about your company’s impact in the future. The message from the outset should be “If we do our job right, we will completely change the way…!”
🎨 Paint a picture with words
Specific > Generic, every time. Instead of a slide title that says “Team,” you could write, “We’ve worked together for 5+ years at Uber and introduced ______ together” Repeat for every slide.
🖼️ Add images last
Only start adding images to your deck after you’ve got the twenty or so slide headlines in order. Graphics are a crutch. They should only be there to support each headline. Ideally, there are no other words beyond the headline.
This isn’t easy. In a 16:9 slide format, with 28 point title font, you can only fit in ~15 words or ~75 characters per slide. You likely won’t use more than 300 words! Use a subtitle if needed, but brevity is important. The story needs to be crisp.
This may feel like an old school approach, but your story is everything. Stop thinking of your pitch as a checklist. Start thinking like Lin Manuel Miranda. Don’t throw away your shot (Apologies to Hunter Walk).